Safety Advocates File Petition to Initiate U.S. Action to Curb Use of Electronic Devices by Truck and Bus Drivers

September 24, 2009

WASHINGTON, Sept. 24 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) today filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Transportation to initiate federal rulemaking to prohibit or restrict the use of unsafe electronic devices, for talking, texting and other purposes, by operators of commercial motor vehicles, such as tractor trailers, motorcoach buses, and large vans.

Advocates (www.saferoads.org) filed the petition for rulemaking with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), calling on the agency to:

  • Immediately open a rulemaking proceeding to determine the safety of electronic devices used by drivers operating a CMV;
  • Evaluate all wireless electronic devices used for telecommunications, telematics, entertainment and driver assistance (regardless of whether they are mobile or installed into the vehicle electronics platform) that can be used by drivers while operating a CMV;
  • Determine which devices interfere with the safe operation of CMVs;
  • Permit exceptions only in emergency situations, and exempt law enforcement and emergency responders who operate CMVs in the conduct of their official duties;
  • Make the violation of using a prohibited or restricted device while operating a CMV a safety violation that automatically triggers the issuance of an Out-of-Service (OOS) order;
  • Apply the rule to all CMV drivers under FMCSA jurisdiction;
  • Issue a rule to prohibit or restrict the use of devices that interfere with the safe operation of CMVs, and explain the conditions under which devices that are restricted can be used.

“Driver distraction is a serious and growing safety problem,” said Advocates vice president Jacqueline Gillan. “If safety is indeed our nation’s number one transportation priority, now is the time for FMCSA to act to stem the rising tide of distracted driving crashes, deaths and injuries.”

Nearly 5,000 people are killed and 100,000 more are injured each year in crashes with large trucks. Trucks are only 3 percent of registered vehicles, but are involved in 12 percent of all traffic fatalities.

Gillan cited a growing number of scientific studies that have repeatedly verified the serious, adverse impact on driver and passenger safety as a consequence of using one or more types of electronic devices.

For example, a Virginia Tech study issued this year, which was the first to investigate the effects on crash risk of reading and sending text messages, found that texting increased the risk of a safety-critical driving event for truck drivers by 23.2 times. Another study conducted in 2006 found that drivers using cell phones failed to stop at stop signs 10 times more often than drivers not using cell phones.

In 2006, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a safety recommendation urging FMCSA to ban cell phone use by commercial drivers license (CDL) holders who operate motorcoaches or school buses.

In July of this year, the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority in the District of Columbia (DC) issued a zero-tolerance policy for Metro bus and rail operators using mobile devices while on the job, while one year ago the Federal Railroad Administration issued an Emergency Order restricting the use electronic devices by railroad employees after a commuter/freight train head-on collision.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at any given moment 11 percent of all motorists are using cell phones while driving, and 25 percent of all police-reported crashes may involve distracted driving.

Participating in today’s news announcement were Elissa and Jamie Schee of Ocala, Florida, whose daughter Frances “Margay” Schee, age 13, was killed on September, 23, 2008, when a tractor trailer rammed into the back of her school bus that was stopped with its lights flashing. The truck driver’s cell phone use was a contributing factor in the fiery fatal crash.

“One year and one day later, we want to express our strong support for this safety petition that is asking our federal government to finally do something to keep commercial vehicle drivers off the phone and to stay focused on the road in front of them,” said Elissa Schee. “What happened to our daughter Margay was not an isolated incident. These tragedies are increasingly occurring on our nation’s roadways – and they are preventable.”

A recent national survey by Nationwide Insurance found that 81 percent of persons interviewed admit to talking on a cell phone while driving, 45 percent claim they were hit or nearly hit by someone talking on a cell phone, and 80 percent support legislation banning cell phone use while driving.

Earlier this year, the National Safety Council called for a complete ban on cell phones and messaging devices while driving, and urged each state and DC to enact such laws.

Some states have already taken action for passenger vehicles:

  • Text messaging -18 states and DC ban all drivers from using cell phones for text messaging while driving, 9 states ban teen drivers specifically, and 1 state bans school bus drivers specifically;
  • Cell Phones – 21 states and DC ban teen drivers from using both hand-held and hands-free cell phones while driving, while school bus drivers are prohibited in 17 states and DC; 9 states and DC prohibit the use of hand-held cell phones by drivers 18 years and older.
  • More than 52 countries ban or restrict cell phone use while driving (www.cellular-news.com/car_bans)

“Given the dramatic, highly disproportionate impact on public safety that results from large truck and motorcoach crashes, it is clearly in the public interest for FMCSA to initiate rulemaking that will lead to the establishment of appropriate controls over the use of distracting electronic devices and to adopt enforcement sanctions for CMV drivers who violate the regulations,” said Advocates senior research director Gerald Donaldson.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety is an alliance of consumer, health, law enforcement and safety groups and insurance companies and agents working together to make America’s roads safer.

For a copy of Advocates’ “Distracted Driving Petition for Rulemaking” and other press kit materials, please go to: www.saferoads.org

SOURCE Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety

Source: newswire

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